Unsolicited business proposals are an important part of your organization’s sales and marketing strategy. When it comes to government bids and proposals, the difference between solicited and unsolicited proposals is that the latter type is submitted to agencies or departments by an interested vendor without a request for proposals (RFP) or request for information (RFI). This guide is directed towards helping prospective individuals, businesses, or organizations interested in writing and submitting unsolicited project proposals.
Many government (federal, state, local) agencies, organizations and foundations will review unsolicited proposals for a number of reasons:
Check out this video on writing unsolicited proposals to present your business products and services to the Federal government.
- Your organization might have a new and innovative project idea that does not fall under topic areas publicized under the existing programs or programmatic initiatives of an institution. In those cases, the idea may be submitted as an unsolicited proposal.
- Unsolicited proposals may be submitted when a prospective contractor’s new ideas don’t fall under program areas publicized under solicitations or programs of the target institution.
- Unsolicited proposals allow suppliers to bring novel ideas or approaches developed outside to agencies and institutions. In this way, they are a valuable method for agencies to get their hands on previously unheard of approaches for accomplishing their missions from outside sources.
Alternatively, agencies and institutions may encourage the supplier community to submit unsolicited proposals offering new and innovative technology solutions, services and goods. These might include offerings that would provide significant cost savings. Non-competitive actions might also be used to facilitate pilot demonstration projects carried out by private agencies or organizations, or under-represented businesses.
Sometimes unsolicited proposals, contrary to their definition, are formally requested, such as when an agency issues a broad announcement like a Notice of Program Interest (“NOPI”). According the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) guidelines section 15, the government actually encourages the submission of new and innovative ideas in response to agency announcements, innovation research and technology transfer topics, and other government-led programs.
Read on to discover 5 essential tips used by successful professionals to land contracts and awards through unsolicited proposal submissions.
1. Choose the right time to submit your proposal
When does one submit an unsolicited proposal? It depends. First of all you have to find out if the agency or funder even accepts unsolicited proposals or letters of inquiry. For some agencies, unsolicited proposals may be accepted and reviewed on an ongoing basis throughout the year. Most large sponsors have set deadlines for submission of unsolicited proposals and published schedules for the review and notification process. For example, some organizations, have semi-annual deadlines for submitting unsolicited proposals to core programs. Organizations with specific due dates will often provide guidance to potential contractors on the criteria for determining valid unsolicited proposals and guidance on the procedures for their submission and evaluation. Regardless of whether the funder requests unsolicited proposals by a specific deadline, they should be submitted well in advance of the anticipated starting date.
2. Include these essential proposal elements
What do you include in an unsolicited proposal? First, check to see if the agency has specific guidelines on how to write an unsolicited proposal. An example of a formal guide for submitting unsolicited proposals can be found here on the Department of Energy website. For instance, you need to know if the organization will accept it in printed, regular mail or in electronic form through e-mail.
If the agency does not have formal guidelines, you could use their published RFP as a guide. At a minimum, to permit consideration in an objective and timely manner, any proposal should contain basic information about your organization. This includes identifying any proprietary data to be used only for evaluation purposes, and the name and address and contact information for key technical and business personnel. Contracting organizations will also want to know what type of organization you are, whether it is a small business, for profit, not for profit, or educational institution. If submitting to a government agency, include the names of other Federal, State, local agencies, or parties receiving the proposal or funding the proposed effort. Also include the date of your submission and person authorized to represent and contractually obligate your institution. Be sure to lead the proposal with an executive summary, and include biographical information about your team.
3. How to avoid the rejection bin
What will cause your proposal to be rejected or tossed in the garbage? Unlike a manuscript or a formal or solicited proposal, unsolicited proposals may not have a target audience or any specific requirements for content and format, making them a real challenge to develop. Unsolicited proposals are like direct mail campaigns, and you only have a few seconds to capture your prospects interest.
Unsolicited proposals that do not, in fact, contain unique ideas or concepts or innovative methods or approaches owned by the submitter will be returned to you without evaluation. Your audience would be more receptive with a specifically solicited proposal, since the problem and the solution have already been identified. Solicited proposals directly focus on recommendations that respond to the work specified in the RFP (request for proposal.)
Because your audience may be less receptive to unsolicited proposals, you need to do more leg work to identify problems and present attractive solutions that the agency may not even realize they need. It is good to contact a decisionmaker or program officer in advance.
Unsolicited proposals may be awarded a contract, grant, or other legal arrangement, as determined by the responsible official or their representative. It should be clear that the proposal was submitted on the proposer’s own initiative. Additionally, the purpose should be to explore a method, approach, or an idea or to carry out an initial development in support of the agency’s mission. Your proposal should not replicate or look similar to the essence of any pending competitive acquisition. (You should do some research here to make sure your proposal does not fit under existing RFPs to which competing organizations may have already submitted bids and proposals).
4. Increase your odds of being awarded a contract
Here are four ways to increase the odds of being granted an award for your unsolicited proposal:
- Prospective awardees should make initial contact with agency personnel before preparing detailed unsolicited proposals or submitting proprietary business info to any entity with which you want to do business. When writing unsolicited proposals, you must first convince the audience that a problem exists (since they have not already included it as part of their formal RFP process).
- Moreover, your proposal must be innovative. Funders of nonprofits want proposals that show potential for measurable impact and meaningful policy change. Your odds of success are higher with current clients because they already know the quality of your work. That means if you’re unknown to the reader, you need to establish your credibility.
- The most promising unsolicited proposals will very specifically address the mission of the organization they target. Again, successful unsolicited proposals demonstrate either a unique and innovative concept, or, demonstrate a unique capability of the proposer to provide the particular services or products proposed. Perhaps your firm offers a concept or services not otherwise available to the agency, whether it is a foundation, government or other type of organization.
- It should be clear that there is very limited competition in the market for what you propose or how you propose to do it. For example, many unsolicited proposals that are submitted, for example, to run construction, operation, maintenance, or financing of infrastructure projects are in sectors with limited or no internal market competition, and not projects that compete in licensed or otherwise active markets.
5. Decide on a proposal format
How do you format an unsolicited proposal? Unsolicited proposals are generally less formal than the solicited kind. Sometimes an unsolicited proposal is not to an external organization. You may, for instance, write an unsolicited proposal to your manager if you have an idea that you would like to implement. Unsolicited proposals may be short documents, or even single page memos. Use headlines, short paragraphs and make use of white space. Include diagrams as needed. Start off with an executive summary. Make sure the reviewer knows up front the essential elements are included (your innovation, qualifications, and how it aligns with their vision).
Caveats and Final Points to Consider for Your Proposal:
Many aspects of the proposal process are out of your hands. While you should do your best to submit an innovative business proposal that clearly demonstrates value to the organization and your qualifations, the funding decision is ultimately out of your hands. Unsolicited proposals are contingent on the availability of funds, discretionary budget, and the absence of other possible vendors.
The total funding available for unsolicited proposals will vary by agency each year.
You are developing the proposal on your own dime. Do not expect the funder, corporation or government agency to be responsible for any costs incurred in the preparation or processing of an unsolicited proposal.
Similarly, if the reviewer or official requests further information about your proposed plan, submitting it will be at your own expense and risk.
Don’t skip contacting an organization just because they do not accepted unsolicited proposals. If an agency does not accepted proposals, it does not mean you cannot contact them at all. For instance, most governments do not consider advertising material to be an unsolicited proposal. Such materials could be designed to acquaint the agency with your current product line or potential capacity, or designed to determine the agency’s interest in buying the kinds of services and products you offer.
Unsolicited proposals, because they are seeking awards without the transparency and competition of the formal proposal process, must demonstrate clear value to an agency, either solving a novel problem, introducing new capabilities not otherwise available in the marketplace, or the potential to reduce hidden costs. Such proposals should directly align with the mission and goals of an organization. You would do well to reach out to a potential decision maker beforehand to get some inclination if your idea would be welcome, as well as to find out what the formal policy is on accepting such proposals outside of formal invitation processes. Still, sending out unsolicited proposals is an important part of growing a healthy business. When done correctly, they are a powerful tool in your business arsenal.
- Download a free one-hour webinar on Sole Source Contracts and Unsolicited Proposals to the Federal Government.
- Federal regulations on the criteria governing acceptance and funding of unsolicited proposals include: Title 48 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Chapter 1, The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Subpart 15.6 – Unsolicited Proposals; and, Title 10 CFR, Part 600.6 Financial Assistance Rules.